Greatest free agency signings in NBA history: 4. Shaquille O’Neal- Los Angeles Lakers, 1996
Considering how the Orlando media and Orlando Magic fanbase treated Shaquille O’Neal prior to his impending free agency, his decision to spurn them in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers was more inevitable than it may have been at the time.
The Orlando Sentinel and fans who voted in their polls ran the full “hold water for management” gambit, including running polls in which most of the fans believed the team should choose then-coach Brian Hill over O’Neal and that O’Neal wasn’t worth a max salary, and suggesting that having a child with his girlfriend before marriage made him a bad role model.
Combine that with O’Neal’s deteriorating relationship with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and his departure was an easier slam dunk than any he made on the court for his entire career (even the one in which he snatches Chris Dudley’s soul out of his chest).
So, Shaq signed with the Lakers for $121 million over seven years. After signing O’Neal made sure to let us know that money wasn’t the driving factor in his decision while subtly poking holes in the idea that max contracts will entice superstars to stay with one team:
"“I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money,” O’Neal said after signing for a reported $121 million. “I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok [two companies O’Neal had endorsement deals with.”"
As a Laker, O’Neal continued to live up to his “Diesel” moniker, as he pulverized through his contemporaries to the tune of .241 WS/48. Once Kobe Bryant emerged as a viable co-star, LA built a dynasty around those two, as they won three straight championships (Shaq won Finals MVP in all of them) and reached four in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, the Magic are still looking to win their first title.